Ancestor worship in Madagascar ... and Leyland

 Our greatest fear is violating the taboos of our ancestors. There are many different taboos and we learn of them through spirit-possession by our ancestors. For everyone there are taboos against things, such as eating pork or digging in the ground on Tuesday. Some people have ancestral taboos against things, such as travelling on Sunday or eating a certain type of bean. If a community member sees someone breaking a taboo, then the community punishes them and requires them to make some sort of sacrifice. But the ancestors see everything; so even if the community doesn’t see, the ancestors will punish the one who broke the taboo. The punishment can be on any area of their life. That’s why we fear breaking the taboos.”

These are the words of “Barakasy”, the King of Nosy Mitsio (sub-King of the Antakarana people in Madagascar). It is copied out of literature from Africa Inland Mission. The language is quite exotic; but let’s not dismiss it as foreign craziness - this is our society too...


I was in a home last week being shown photos from (what I think was) a faulty camera. There were blurs and lines of colour that the owner was convinced were spirits and ghosts. Following a recent death, she believed this was evidence of some sort of communication from the deceased.

‘Ancestor worship’ is not confined to tribes of far-off lands. It is practiced in Leyland. All around town are shrines inscribed with messages to the dead (especially those who have died young). I have recently been asked to pray to (not only for) dead relatives, heroes, and even pets.

Living in fear of ancestors (deceased loved ones) breeds not only superstition, but the sort of ‘taboos’ mentioned by Barakasy. In particular, this fear stops people taking Jesus seriously.

Take the lady with the photos: for me to say, ‘I think your camera’s faulty. Forget ghosts and orbs - the spiritual mystery you need to know about is that Jesus is alive, sees everything, and will judge the world. He offers mercy to all who call on him’ - you might think that was appealing to someone who believed in a spiritual world. But to take it seriously would mean possibly offending the unseen ‘beings’ who may be in the room. And who knows what they might do?

We need to pray for the Spirit’s power to overcome these fears, superstitions and misplaced worship.